Every dime you spend that stays in Fairfield is a dime that helps support the local economy.

So during this busiest of shopping seasons, please buy from your local merchants.

The more money that flows into Fairfield, the more amenities you as a Fairfield resident, can look forward to. From better schools, to better entertainment, to better restaurants, parks, and fire and police services.

From the Black Rock Turnpike to the Grasmere section to Greenfield Hill and Southport, Fairfield has unique shops. Fairfield has everything from jewelry, to women's clothing, to pottery makers, to fabulous restaurants, to lingerie, to men's clothing, bicycles, toys for kids, florists, frame shops, and specialty foods, just to name a few.

You just don't need to cross town lines in either direction. The Mall? What's a mall? The only thing a mall can guarantee you that our Fairfield merchants cannot, is free wheelchairs and baby strollers.

Don't forget that the local merchants support local causes all year long. It's only fair that you give back to those that give to you -- not to mention that you'll get experienced, personal attention with hometown service while saving time and money by shopping close to home.

Not sure what to get someone on your gift list?

How about a gift certificate redeemable with more than 30 area merchants?

The Chamber Bucks program coordinated by the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce was developed as a means of keeping consumers' dollars in Fairfield.

Did you know that eight in 10 Americans would be "thrilled" to receive a gift certificate that they could use in more than one location? By a 7-3 margin, Americans prefer getting a universal gift certificate rather than a store-specific gift card.

The Chamber has pumped $70,000 back into the town's economy through the sale of these certificates, and there's no doubt that sales will top that figure once the word has spread.

The gift certificates come in increments of $5, $10, $25 and $50 and are available during regular hours at the chamber office at 1597 Post Road -- over Quattro Pazzi Restaurant and just down from the Fairfield University Bookstore.

Each certificate is packaged with the list of businesses where the certificates can be redeemed, and while there is no expiration date on gift certificates in Connecticut, if a period of time has elapsed, the chamber suggests the recipient go to the Chamber's website -- www.fairfieldctchamber.com -- for the most up-to-date list. All monies generated through the program are deposited at our local Patriot National Bank. Merchants love to get certificates because, like a check, they are simply deposited into the company's account and redeemed for face value.

Real estate studies have shown that houses located within walking distance of small neighborhood stores have held their value better than those isolated in areas, where the nearest gallon of milk is a five-mile drive. More and more people are deliberately seeking out locally owned businesses for ease of convenience and other reasons.

Studies have shown that for every $100 spent locally, $45 stays in the community. However, the study by the firm Civic Economics found this to be true only if the money is spent at a locally owned business. Shopping at a chain store meant that only $13 of every $100 spent stays in the community.

Be a friend to Fairfield, and shop your local merchants not only for the holidays, but all year long.

Patricia L. Ritchie is president and chief executive officer of the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce.